Until now, the Nova Scotia-based company has only sold fish-derived EPA/DHA as an ingredient for food and dietary supplements, as its Meg-3 branded ingredient. The chews represent a new departure as, for the first time, it is to supply the finished product, made by a contract manufacturer.
"We are not a candy company, but we are able to put the ingredient into a chew and make it a delivery format for fish oil. No-one has been able to do that before," Ian Lucas, VP marketing and new product development, told NutraIngredients-USA.com at last week's SupplySide West in Las Vegas.
The primary business model remains ingredients, but having formulated the chew Lucas said that the exercise is an opportunity to get the Meg-3 brand out there and expose different people to it at different levels.
"This is one of the things you can do when you own the technology. We are trying out the pseudo-supplement arena and by establishing it quickly we can see if it is a sustainable business."
So far, the signs are positive: it has been sold into Costco, Wal-Mart Canada and stores in Korea.
"This is going to be a significant volume product," said Lucas.
He explained that a fishy smell and taste is the result of the oxidation process, and that even non-marine, flax or microalgae-derived omega-3 can be fishy if oxidation occurs.
With Meg-3, however, the omega-3 is digested past the stomach, so there is no fishy "burp back". Ocean Nutrition's microencapsulation technology creates a hard shell around the oil, with a series of compartments within. This makes it more resilient to processing, since if one compartment is broken not all of the oil is released.
Lucas said that the outside of each oil droplet is dry, whereas spray dried fish oil has oil on the outside. This means it is already exposed, and therefore vulnerable to oxidation, when it is put into other foods.
Products containing Meg-3 may be a useful way for fish allergy sufferers to receive the benefits of omega-3. The company has received affirmation from FAARP (Food Allergy Research and Resource Program) that the ingredient is not an allergen. Adverse reactions to fish are due to a protein, and there is no protein in molecularly distilled fish oil.
In the last six months, Meg-3 has been used in bread, tortilla and dairy products. Lucas said that yogurt makers are particularly receptive to functional ingredients, as their products have already proved a successful vehicle for probiotics.
Typically, once Ocean Nutrition has figured out how to use its ingredient in a new food type, it seeks out partners. As well as supplying the ingredient, it also sends along technical advisers to ensure that the best results are achieved.
Amongst the areas in which the company is currently looking for companies to introduce products is orange juice.
Lucas said that the company has an "aggressive growth forecast", and the ingredient will be launching in at least 10 different food applications next year.
Europe is also an important part of Ocean Nutrition's plan. It recently acquired a new production plant in Arcadia, Wisconsin, to supply omega-3 to the US market while the original Nova Scotia plant serves Canada and Europe.
Already four times the size of the Nova Scotia facility, the Arcadia plant has the capacity to double production should demand require it. Another facility in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, is expected to be operational in 18 months time; this will be the same size as the Arcadia site, with the same capacity to expand.
Two weeks ago a fire broke out at the Arcadia plant, and although Lucas said that investigations into the cause are ongoing, production has not been interrupted and, in any case, the Nova Scotia site has the capacity to pick up any short fall.
However the incident highlights the importance of expanding companies having a back-up plan:
"It is really important for big food companies to know they can get supply, even if one site goes down," said Lucas.